Likely, you are named as a trustee, and might not know it until tragedy strikes.  A trustee is a person named in a trust document as the person in charge.  The most common type of trust is a revocable living trust, and is used to avoid probate.  Most people start out as their own trustee.  However, the trust usually plans for an alternate trustee when the person who made the trust becomes incapacitated and when that person dies.

  1. Discuss your estate planning documents with your parents, siblings, and/or children to learn if you have been named as one of the alternate trustees.
  2. Ask for a copy of the trust and the trust certificate, and where the original documents are stored.  Find out if there have been any modifications to the original document, and, if so, get a copy of the modifications.
  3. Find out if there is a comprehensive list of all the assets that the trust owns and/or that the trust is the primary or contingent beneficiary of and get a copy.  If there is not a list of assets, suggest that one be created. This list will make it much easier for you to do your job when the time comes.
  4. Get contact information for insurance agents, financial advisors, and the estate planning attorney who wrote the trust (or another estate planning attorney, if you no longer have a relationship with that attorney).   Suggest that you visit with the attorney to ensure the trust is up to date, if that has not been done in the last two years.
  5. When the time comes for you to be trustee, contact an attorney who is both an elder law and estate planning attorney to learn what your responsibilities and obligations are.  Each situation will be a little bit different because a trust is a very personalized document.  Your responsibilities may or may not include writing checks to pay bills.

Our next article will discuss common issues a trustee might face and how to overcome them.

Cynthia Letsch is an estate planning and elder law attorney practicing in Central Iowa.